Israel's Supreme Court Orders Retrial of 2009 Teen Murder Convict

The prisoner was convicted in 2009, when he was 16 years old, for firing at a bus that was transporting students in Kafr Qasem, killing a 15-year-old

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Suspect in killing of 15-yeard-old in Kafr Qasem, 2009.
Suspect in killing of 15-yeard-old in Kafr Qasem, 2009. Credit: Nir Keidar

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel on Monday ordered a retrial for a prisoner who was convicted of murder about a decade ago.

Hendel made the decision because in another case, the district court rejected testimony that was used as the principal evidence for convicting him. The prisoner was convicted as a teenager, which is why there is a gag order on all identifying details. He has 14 years left of his sentence, and will remain in prison during the retrial.

The prisoner was sentenced to 25 years in jail in 2009 when he was 16 years old, for firing at a bus that was transporting students in Kafr Qasem. He murdered Amjad Shawahana, who was then 15 years old, and seriously wounded another student.

The state prosecutor filed two indictments with the Central District Court. The first was filed against the prisoner and his friend for murder, and the second was filed against the prisoner’s cousin and a friend of his for conspiring to commit a crime.

The district court convicted the prisoner in 2011 and acquitted his friend in the first indictment. The main evidence was that of the testimony of the cousin and friend from the second indictment, although they changed their minds during the trial, claiming they had been improperly pressured.

Another district court panel of judges accepted the complaint of the accused in the second indictment, disqualified their testimony and acquitted them in 2015.

Last week attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office requested a retrial, based on the rejection of the testimony of the accused in the second indictment.

They maintained that conviction in one case and acquittal in another based on the same testimony “creates a very serious miscarriage of justice, which we believe requires a retrial. Evidence that turned out to be unacceptable cannot be used as a basis for his conviction, and after the confessions of the friend and the cousin were disqualified, there is no sufficient evidentiary basis for his conviction.”

The state prosecution opposed the request for a retrial, arguing that there is additional evidence against the prisoner, including his confession to police investigators and other evidence that connects him to the shooting.

They claimed disqualifying the testimony in the second indictment should not lead to “the acquittal of an accused person when there is sufficient evidence proving that he committed the murder.”

Hendel ruled that the circumstances of the incident “could raise a genuine fear of a miscarriage of justice, and the right thing is to clarify the consequences of disqualifying the friend’s confession, along with the additional evidence, regarding the conviction of the appellant.”

Hendel also made the unusual decision that the retrial would be held in the Supreme Court as a criminal appeal, rather than in the district court.

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